On Independence Day, Alton Sterling, and Philando Castile

This past weekend was “Independence Day”. It was my first 4th of July back in the United States and I just didn’t want to celebrate.  I love the United States and I am so proud of the fact that I am a United States citizen.  I am even more proud of the fact that I am an Iowan.  For those of you that know me well, and especially those I met while living abroad, you know that I cannot shut up about Iowa on any given day.  It courses through my veins and the Iowa niceness literally cannot be stopped at times.  However, being proud does not stop me from telling the home I love that we are wrong.  Tough love as it were.  We are wrong for allowing our country to continue to put people in the ground because we have concocted this view that they are scary or delinquent or violent.  Black people are not what our school history books have told us they are.

I was encouraged to watch the documentary “Slavery By Another Name” this past week.  I took Saturday to do so and have had a slow boil of anger bubbling up ever since.  This documentary provides us with information regarding the time between the abolition of slavery and World War II.  It tells of the convict leasing system that allowed private industry to hire convicts for pennies and continue to keep Black people under a system that led to more Black death and more Black folks locked up for ‘crime’. It allowed me to understand the beginnings of our prison industrial complex and why we can’t seem to change the way we view Black people in this country.


A week after watching Jesse Williams proclaim to us all why Black lives really do matter I was again defeated by the damning evidence presented in this documentary.  I was feeling gutted and very unpatriotic going into Monday.  I spent my time with my family on Sunday and Monday – got to enjoy the innocence of my nieces being silly – and then it was back to the grind on Tuesday.  A grind that I have been happy to be on since starting my new job in May.

Then on Wednesday the name Alton Sterling started floating around the Facebook and Twitter worlds.  I can’t bring myself to watch another video of a Black man or woman being brutally taken away from this world.  I can’t do it.  As Luvvie Ajayi says – it’s a snuff film – and I for one won’t be partaking in it anymore.  She also spent a lot of time discussing how we protect white life and animal life – those videos get taken off of social media quick so we don’t have to see it – but Black life?  Nah, it gets paraded around with no regard for LIFE – played automatically like it is for sport.  I did, however, listen to a fifteen year old weep for the loss of his father and that is something I will never forget.

Then I wake up today – Thursday – one day after learning about Alton Sterling to learn the name Philando Castile.  This is a man who was shot in his car after being stopped for a taillight being broken.  Again, I will not be partaking in this video watching.  I will not be complicit in this awful reality we live in.

What I will do is continue to provide people with information and continue to talk to others about realities that they may not believe exist.  I will continue becoming involved with my local NAACP chapter and try to bring more white people together to discuss these things and find outlets for being a true ally.  I will do so because it is right and I am tired of going to sleep every night worrying that the next hashtag will hit directly home.  I did not return to the United States to stand idly by.  You shouldn’t either.

United Shades of America Episode 1

kamau 2

W. Kamau Bell is a man who has been on my radar for ages (or so it seems). I’m trying to recall whether I saw his stand-up first or Totally Biased on FXX. Either way, it doesn’t matter – cuz he’s back on TV! His new show is called “United Shades of America” and man, is he amazing or what?

I’ve been following W. Kamau Bell through his blog since Totally Biased was cancelled and am always appreciative with how he can make me laugh even when terrible things are happening around him or to him.  One of the best/worst posts was when he was accosted at a cafe he and his wife frequent regularly.

United Shades of America was a bit different for me. I was uncomfortable and sad most of the time while watching. Of course I can’t help but laugh at the wit that comes from Kamau, but the pilot for this episode was SO impactful.

kamau 3

Kamau tasked himself with learning about the new Ku Klux Klan and there were times in the episode where I’m biting my nails down to the quick because I have NO idea how he’s going to get away from this situation.

As we go through the episode we learn so much about the thinking and ways of people raised around the Klan. The beauty of this episode? Kamau provides each person with a platform to be in their truth. And even though I felt that each perspective was so far from reality I was given an opportunity to really hear each individual. Kamau gives a bit of his perspective and you know he doesn’t agree, but he really listens. And this is the key. By allowing each person to speak we all get an opportunity to reach understanding of the other’s perspective. This is where we start. By getting to a place of understanding, we can grow.

kamau 1
I loved everything about this episode even though I was uncomfortable throughout. Kamau ends the pilot by explaining that he may be the only black man in history that has been asked to witness a cross burning (or cross lighting) and walk away from it. At this point, I promptly began crying.

Kudos to CNN for putting such an amazing man on your network and for allowing him a platform to do amazing stuff. I can’t wait to see where he goes next.